Golden tests are tasty

Posted on December 15, 2016 by Kwang Yul Seo
Tags: tasty, golden, test

Haskell programmers love property based testing thanks to glorious QuickCheck library. Once we specify the program behavior in terms of properties, QuickCheck generates random test cases and checks if the given properties hold for these test cases. Once it finds a failing test case, it automatically shrinks the test case to the minimal value which still violates the property.

However, we, Haskell programmers, often forget that there are other test methodologies. In this post, I am going to introduce gold testing provided by tasty-golden package.

The idea is simple. A golden test is just an IO action that writes its result to a file. To pass the test, this output file should be identical to the corresponding golden file, which contains the correct result for the test.

A cast study: untyped lambda calculus

We have an untyped lambda calculus implementation. It provides run function which evaluates the given lambda calculus script to a String.

run :: String -> Either String String

For testing, we would like to check if this function works correctly for various input scripts. To enumerate a few test scenarios:

Of course, we can manually create a test case for each scenario, but this is boring and repetitive. Instead of writing test cases in Haskell, let’s create a script file and its expected output file for each input:

Once we have these files ready, what golden tests do is to read each script file and evaluates the script, and compares the output with the expected output contained in the expected file. If the actual output and the expected output are different, the test fails. We call the expected output file as the golden file.

For convenience, tasty-golden generates the golden files if they are not available. So you don’t need to create golden files initially. You also can regenerate the golden files using the --accept flag. This is useful when you know that your change is valid and want to rebase all the golden files accordingly.


Here’s the actual code which performs golden tests as described above. listTestFiles enumerates all the script files under test/tests directory and mkGoldenTest creates a golden test from the script file using goldenVsString function provided by tasty-golden.

import Language.LambdaCalculus

import qualified Data.ByteString.Lazy.Char8 as BS
import System.FilePath
import System.FilePath.Glob

import Test.Tasty
import Test.Tasty.Golden as G

main :: IO ()
main = do
  paths <- listTestFiles
  goldens <- mapM mkGoldenTest paths
  defaultMain (testGroup "Tests" goldens)

listTestFiles :: IO [FilePath]
listTestFiles = globDir1 pat "test/tests"
  where pat = compile "*.lc"

mkGoldenTest :: FilePath -> IO TestTree
mkGoldenTest path = do
  let testName = takeBaseName path
  let goldenPath = replaceExtension path ".golden"
  return (goldenVsString testName goldenPath action)
    action :: IO BS.ByteString
    action = do
      script <- readFile path
      let actual = either id id (run script)
      return (BS.pack actual)